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Ground covering presents challenge

Q: I’m interested in recommendations for ground covers. What will grow quickly and look good most of the year?

• Angela from Youngstown

A: Groundcovers are all rapid growers. Saying this, many of the common ones can be invasive. While the look nice most of the year, they are causing problems in one way or another.

When I moved in nine years ago, I notice we had a mouse problem through the winter. It wasn’t terrible — but bad enough that we noticed it. By early spring, I figured out why. My next door neighbor had a large patch of pachysandra about eight feet from my garage.

So, I convinced her we could remove it and replace it with some hydrangeas and mulch. As soon as we cut down the “ground cover” with the trimmer, the mice runs were quite visible to both of us. Turns out, we both had a mouse problem.

The other challenge is with plants such as Vinca minor, also known as periwinkle and myrtle. This shiny leaved, semi-trailing, evergreen plant is an attractive ground cover and is showy in spring with its purple flowers.

While it looks pretty in the landscape, it is indeed an invasive plan. While it may not seem invasive in your lawn or other flower beds, you would be surprised to see it take over the understory of woodlots. It is attractive, but it outcompetes our native plants and takes over.

Then there is the traditional English ivy, which is considered an invasive plant in many states.

To learn about the invasive nature of Vinca minor and other invasive vines, read http://go.osu.edu/invasivevines.

Other plants such as ajuga and lily-of-the-valley can be attractive plants but spread out of control unless constantly managed. Overcrowding of lily-of-the-valley can happen quickly and the leaves get unattractive with disease pressure soon after flowering.

There are alternatives that will work well as ground covers. Simply think outside the box and don’t just go with something you see in the neighborhood. Many low growing shrubs will work. They take a couple of years to establish, but are generally low maintenance. Lamb’s ear can work if you have the correct one — like Helene von Stein.

For a list of alternative plants for groundcovers, see http://go.osu.edu/groundcovers

Barrett is the Ohio State Univesity Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Submit questions to the Extension office at 330-533-5538. Regular clinic hours are 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays or visit go.osu.edu/virtualclinic.

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